Here's a little film about Ethiopian vibraphonist, pianist and composer Mulatu Astatke and the collaboration he did last year with the UK group Heliocentrics.Mulatu is now a god among men in the jazz world, but he was a pretty obscure cat for most of his career. Most everyone on our side of the world discovered him thanks to the French reissue series Ethiopiques. The releases extensively document the best in Ethiopian music, and the fourth disc in the series is a compilation of Mulatu's best tracks from the early and mid-1970s when he refined his sound.
If you like groove-based jazz heavy on the spacey shit, then you've probably heard Ethiopiques #4. It's a classic. Vibes and analog electric keyboards lead the band, there are tight horn arrangements for a small line and loose, pulsing percussion. The tones are really unique -- a mix of western jazz, Arabic, middle eastern and north African textures, and at times some Indian or southeast Asian flavors. It's dark music, filled with drama and melancholy -- way different than west African highlife, funk and afrobeat styles. The fact that it's all recorded in gritty lo-fi just gives it more edge.
Mulatu was making this music 40 years ago, but it's really only been about 5 or 6 years since his stuff started becoming more high-profile. The obscurity was most likely forced, thanks to the military rule in Addis and its crackdown on the arts throughout the 70s and 80s. Lately, since he's been discovered, Mulatu has been touring more. First with Boston's Either/Orchestra, which I got to see in Oakland last year (the crowd was filled with Ethiopian expats, and they were going crazy!) and now with the UK band Heliocentrics.
I'll let the video above tell the rest of the story. The music they create together is intense. Also, it's great to see Mulatu looking good, joking around and still shredding on the Rhodes and the vibraphone.
The record they cut together comes out in February, but they've played some live shows. Blogger and fellow musical broheem Eardrummer has posted some MP3s of a live show in London. It's an FM broadcast, so it's legit. And tight. Go get it!
More Mulatu at Dusty Groove.
And thanks to Erik for the video link!